Missing exhibits, contaminated crime scene, poor collection of samples, contradictory statements and witnesses gone AWOL. All these sound like a script from a Hollywood movie, except this is the reality that surrounded the Italy Setlampoloka murder case.
The Court Case
It has been a long nine years since an alleged habitual criminal, Setlampoloka was murdered by six police officers as per the charge sheet. However, what the police started out as an obligation to hold those accountable responsible for the murder to allow the family to find closure, turned into nothing short of a suspenseful drama. Heartbreak for some. Joy for others. As the curtain fell on Tuesday, marking the end of a long journey for the deceased family, and the police officers who have been on trial since they were committed to the High Court in 2013, Gaborone High Court’s outgoing presiding judge, Leatile Dambe could not hide her disappointment as she flipped the pages to read the judgement.
Not only was the Court of Appeal-bound Dambe dismayed at the manner in which the State laid its case, but she was also indignant at the way the police handled the whole matter. As she sat before a fully-packed courtroom, Dambe expressed her shock at the poor police investigation of the case. “As a former prosecutor, I have never seen such a badly investigated case. I am appalled at the manner it was handled. Really utterly shocked,” she said.
It became apparent that the police officers; detective assistant Superintendent Dithuso Dintwe, sub-Inspector Ranto Mmereki, Constables Tebogo Khutsafalo, Kabo Ramohibidu, Michael Ramhitshana and Patrick Gobotswang will walk free.
Dambe was putting the final nail to the State’s case, making deliberations on the defence’s application of no case to answer following the conclusion of the case a few weeks back.
As outlined by the Judge in her ruling, the State was always going to have a mountain to climb the day they carelessly allowed the exhibits to disappear from their own backyard.
“Exhibits are crucial in any case and for them to just disappear and end up not being tendered weakened the State’s case,” Dambe said.
Dambe said following the disappearance of the exhibits, attempts were made to link the accused to the crime with no success. She explained that the State failed to pinpoint the accused to the crime scene as the police failed in their investigation of the case at all.
Dambe read that despite what was believed to be murder, not suicide, the police failed to make sure that the crime was not contaminated, failed to collect necessary samples whereas in other times they touched samples with their own hands.
“There is no circumstantial evidence, no scientific one like DNA to link the accused. No evidence was laid during the trial that the accused acted jointly to commit the offence of murder. The key witness too, ran away from court and was eventually expelled,” she said.
The final page of Dambe’s judgement read as “the accused
For a split second, one could see what felt like a heavy load being lifted from the accused persons’ shoulders as their faces lit up.
All their charges, which also included giving false information to a person employed in the public service, were dropped. One of the six officers, Constable Gobotswang who was facing an additional charge of destroying evidence, was also acquitted and discharged.
The case with all the makings of a Box Office movie had its highs and lows. Many who followed it closely may never forget the key witness who testified in court to having been tortured along with the deceased.
Following his testimony, the witness tried every trick in the book in what seemed like avoiding cross-examination from the defence team of Kgosietsile Ngakaagae and Busang Manewe, and in turn costing the State dearly.
The Police Officers
The police officers are adamant that their hands are clean and that they have nothing to do with the alleged murder.
They denied ever torturing the deceased on any day. Assistant Superintendent Dintwe, in a brief interview said they were relieved that the case came to an end after such a long time.
He said they were all looking forward to resuming their duties. He, however, was not happy with the way the case was delayed and the lack of respect the witnesses gave to the court.
“The case weighed heavily on us and our families, having to live everyday with such a cloud over your head is not a good feeling. But we thank God for the support,” he said.
For the duration of the trial, it has been hard to spot any family member from the deceased’s side. The officers surely had the support of their families who always came through for court sessions. Nothing much on Setlampoloka’s family as Mmegi tried on numerous occasions to locate them.
The only conclusion could be that Setlampoloka was from Mahalapye and he came to Gaborone to fend for himself. Due to distance, maybe they could not make appearances as they wished.
Setlampoloka, according to records, was found dead near Gabane on July 30, 2009, a day after his arrest and detention at Mogoditshane Police Station.
It was reported that he was arrested by members of the Serious Crimes Squad in connection with a spate of armed robberies.
It is alleged that as he was a suspect, he died under torture at the hand of the police who were trying to extract a confession out of him.
The police then allegedly took his body to Senamakola farmlands near Gabane where they simulated suicide by hanging his body from a tree.